Sydney Festival directors

Sydney Festival directors

Oral histories

Ahead of its 40th year in 2016, former Sydney Festival directors tell their personal tales of how the yearly cultural celebration has evolved over the years.

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Artistic directors’ views of the Sydney Festival

Behind the scenes anecdotes and never before heard tales of some of Sydney’s most memorable stage performances are part of a new oral history collection: Sydney Festival through the eyes of its directors, 1977–2016.

The oral histories were commissioned by the City of Sydney and contain the personal recollections of all living Sydney Festival artistic directors.

Through each director’s personal take on their time in charge and what they see as their legacy, the interviews reveal the evolution of the much-loved festival, which turns 40 in January – from the changing nature and scale of the programs and audiences, to the financial challenges, and festival hits and misses.

The interviews were conducted by arts journalist, critic and former broadcaster Martin Portus, who explored the distinctively different vision and personality of each director and how they helped build what is seen worldwide as a uniquely Sydney summer cultural festival.

Established in 1977, the Sydney Festival was introduced by the City of Sydney and the NSW Government to attract more people into the city at the height of the January summer holidays. It is now one of Australia’s largest yearly cultural celebrations.

In its 40-year history, the festival has showcased the best in Australian talent and brought some of the world’s greatest performers to the city – from James Thiérrée, Phillip Glass and Ariane Mnouchkine to Björk, Brian Wilson and Grace Jones.

Each one of the 7 festival directors has stamped their own individual mark on the institution, creating unique turning points over 4 decades.

In the oral histories, the directors give their own takes on running one of the world’s great arts festivals – balancing summertime entertainment with serious art-making, and meeting the expectations of demanding performers, diverse audiences and a large band of sponsors.

Listen to the oral histories online.

Top image: Sydney Festival performers at Darling Harbour in 1989.

Last updated: Monday, 9 November 2015